Best Dressed: Jonah Dela Cruz, the Vintage Mix Master
Meet the aloha shirt-loving hairstylist who counts Duke Kahanamoku, Uncle George Na‘ope and the Rap’s Hawai‘i characters, including Auntie Marialani, among his style influences.
A look at style ambassadors in our city who put it all out there, fashionably.
O‘ahu hair stylist Jonah Dela Cruz maybe best known for his work behind the scenes—he’s responsible for some of the best ’dos on the island—but as his clients can attest, his ultra-cool, completely unique sense of style is equally deserving of time in the spotlight.
The Wahiawā-born creative has an uncanny ability to combine pieces that the regular Joe would never dream of putting together, let alone pick up, in ways that really sing. In fact, he incorporates so many interesting elements, that it can take a few minutes to take in one of his ensembles.
The common thread? There is an unabashed joyfulness to Dela Cruz’s dressing. And the cipher, once you understand it, is clear. Whether he’s rocking boroboro-inspired pants, a rad aloha shirt from his grandfather’s closet or a clutch featuring a photo print of a Hawaiian plate lunch, his outfits express his genuine love for Hawai‘i—past and present, retro and modern—and his connection to his roots.
How would you describe your style?
Jonah Dela Cruz: I love everything retro Hawai‘i—the styles of everyone in Waikīkī in the ’50s, the beach boys, Duke, and Rap Reiplinger and the iconic looks on his show. Honestly, I feel like I’m every character out of Rap’s Hawai‘i, from Rap as host, to the car salesman, to the guy who loves the crackah, to Auntie Marialani.
Is that what you channel when you get dressed?
JD: It’s so funny, cause it kind of just happened that way. Of course, I was brought up watching it—I was literally 5 inches away from the TV screen—and grew up reciting every single skit.
The older I grew, the more I gravitated toward vintage styles. I love treasure hunting, so vintage shopping is so fun, finding pieces of Old Hawai‘i and bringing them back to today. I also gravitate toward things my grandfather wore, straight out of his closet, and styles from where I come from in Wahiawā—it’s very country with farms and pineapple fields. So, I wear a mixture of street style, vintage, and also, like, a grass hat.
How has your time as a hairstylist influenced your style?
JD: As a hairstylist, feeling great and looking great is not only for myself but also for the client and their trust. I have to have a personal sense of style in order to bring that shine out in them.
Prior to that, straight out of high school, I was a chef for a while. And then after that I worked in night life. So, all those experiences have evolved my style into what it is today.
Where did your interest in fashion begin?
JD: My grandfather was such a dapper man—shirt tucked in, a belt, nice slacks. I’m sure that’s how he snagged my grandmother. He always wore a hat, which is funny because I’m the same way. Being a hairstylist, you’d think I’d have coiffed hair, but I’m literally in a hat 90% of the time.
And my grandmother in Wahiawā was a seamstress. Everything I wore as a kid, and everything my dad and his family wore, were things my grandma had patterns of or fabrics for because she worked at a fabric store. She made everyone’s clothes.
Who were your style icons growing up?
JD: I personally never danced hula, but Merrie Monarch was always my favorite thing every time it came around. Again, probably sitting 5 inches away from the TV screen. Uncle George Na‘ope was such a style icon to me. To this day, I’m like, one day I’ve gotta find that jade pinkie ring or I’m gonna wear all of that gold jewelry. I always want to be covered in lei and wear aloha shirts, and just dress the way he dressed during Merrie Monarch.
And how about now?
JD: No one in particular, but I love how nowadays everything is so gender fluid and everyone pushes the limits and social norms. At the Met Gala all these males are showing up in skirts and corsets and they rock it, and I love that.
We noticed that you’re a fan of aloha shirts. Is there a particular type or cut you’re drawn to?
JD: I always find ones that have a story to them. They were maybe made for a Waikīkī hotel worker that was a bellboy. They’re always cut in this kind of clean European way that’s less boxy. I’m not that tall, so those cuts are most flattering on me. And I geek out when I find an aloha shirt that’s long sleeve.
Where do you find your vintage and aloha shirts?
JD: When I go on trips, it’s always the first thing I think of, to hit up a vintage spot. Here in Honolulu I go a lot. I frequent, almost weekly, Number 808 in Hale‘iwa. Single Double of course. Harbors Vintage—I met [owner] Arik [Ma] when I was working at a salon in Kaimukī. He had just opened up his shop. So, I’ve been a day one follower of his. He has a great collection.
Are a lot of your hats from vintage stores as well?
JD: Yeah, a lot of them. No. 808 has a few. Although, they’re not just vintage. I’ve shopped from a lot of newer brands. And I try to shop local as much as possible. Jam’s World is one. Salvage Public is another. I mix the vintage with modern Hawai‘i. And I love anything with color. When it comes to hats, I find a good one and it becomes my favorite for the next year or so.
Another place I shop is Pitacus in Kaimukī. It’s right behind the old Goodwill. They use a lot of old Japanese tapestries and the style is very boroboro, which kind of defines my style. Old Hawai‘i boroboros makes me think of my grandma, throwing on a loose shirt and pants to go out in the yard or for a day out. Growing up, the word boroboro was kind of a bad word, you know, like you dress so boroboro. But I think today, I gotta just own it.
If you could only wear one of your outfits for the rest of your life which would it be?
JD: My favorite shirt in my wardrobe right now is this 1984 Merrie Monarch tee that I’m sure my friends and everyone around me is probably tired of me wearing. It’s just something so special to me. It’s a beige shirt, it’s pretty plain. It has the royal coat of arms printed on the pocket. On the back it’s got Hawai‘i’s monarchy—all their portraits—the year and date of that Merrie Monarch, and an ilima lei.
I’d pair it with something extremely loud and opposite—maybe one of my pants from Pitacus, that boroboro style. And recently I’ve gotten into Crocs, which I wore back in the day when I was a chef as part of my uniform. I never thought that was cool; of course that was maybe 2006. Fast forward to today and it’s got Jibbitz all over it and I’m looking at all these kids like, what’s the style with that? And of course, I’m never going to get that ’cause I don’t want to get stuck in an escalator. But recently I bought myself a pair and never take them off.
Finish this sentence: No outfit is complete without…
JD: Ten more items, LOL. I pile everything on. Right before I leave the house, I look into the mirror and it’s like, what more can I throw on.
It’s the opposite of Coco Chanel’s quote!
JD: Yes, yes. Take one off? I’m throw 10 more on! And that’s jewelry, rings; I probably switch out my hat five different times before I leave the house. I’m throwing on a sweater over my shoulder. All the things! Which is the funniest thing, because it’s hard to layer in Hawai‘i in 85-degree weather, but I love doing it.